Natyashastra (English)

by Bharata-muni | 1951 | 240,273 words | ISBN-13: 9789385005831

The English translation of the Natyashastra, a Sanskrit work on drama, performing arts, theater, dance, music and various other topics. The word natyashastra also refers to a global category of literature encompassing this ancient Indian tradition of dramatic performance. The authorship of this work dates back to as far as at least the 1st millenn...

Chapter XXXVI - Descent of Drama on the Earth

Sages question.

1-6. Being pleased with this, the sages such as Ātreya,[1] Vasiṣṭha, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Aṅgiras, Gautama, Agastya, Manu, the wise Āyus, Viśvāmitra, Sthūlaśiras, Saṃvarta, Pratimardana, Uśanas, Bṛhaspati, Vatsa, Cyavana, Kāśyapa, Dhruvā, Durvāsas, Jamadagni, Mārkaṇḍeya, Gālava, Bharadvāja, Raibhya, the venerable Vālmiki, Sthūlākṣa, Saṅkulākṣa, Kaṇva, Medhātithi, Kuśa, Nārada, Parvata, Suśarman, the two Ekadhanvins, Niṣṭhyūti, Bhavana, Dhaumya, Śatānanda, Kṛtavraṇa, Jāmadagnya Rāma, Jamadagni and Vāmana again spoke out of curiosity to the omniscient Bharata these words:

7. “The ancient Nāṭyaveda which you have spoken, has been properly comprehended by us listening to it attentively.

8. [But] you, venerable sir, should also remove (lit. explain) any doubt we may have in this regard. For who else can speak definitely about the Nāṭyaveda?

9-10. We shall enquire from you [more] about drama for our enlightenment and not out of any distrust, rivalry or jealousy. We did not speak earlier (lit. then) [about this], for there should not be any interruption. So, speak to us exhaustively about the mystery of drama.

11. You have [already] said that exploits of men[2] constitute drama, hence you should speak definitely about what has been kept hidden from people.

12-14. O the best Brahmin (lit. the bull of the twice-born), tell us about the character of the god who appears in the Preliminaries (pūrvaraṅga). Why is the sound [of musical instruments] applied there? What purpose does it serve when applied? What god is pleased with this, and what does he do on being pleased? Why does the Director being himself clean, perform ablution again on the stage?[3] How, O sir, the drama has come (lit. dropped) down to the earth from heaven? Why have your descendants come to be known as Śūdras?”

15. The sage Bharata on hearing these words of the wise men, spoke again to them for explaining the matter which was confidential.

Bharata said:

16. ‘I shall explain to you, O Brahmins, what you persons with excellent vow, enquire regarding the rules of the Preliminaries. Listen properly about it.

17. The Preliminaries have been described in continuation of whatever I have said [earlier] about the destruction obstacles.[4]

18-22. Just as the body is covered [with an armour] for warding off missiles, so sins of all kinds are avoided with Homa. After I have thus warded off the sins and destroyed the obstacles by worshipping gods with Japa, Homa, words of adoration and blessing, and songs about their [benevolent] deeds and attitudes, and with the playing of all instruments, and sound of songs, they (i.e. gods) being pleased with the singing of their praise, said, ‘We are exceedingly delighted with the performance of yours; as it nandati [pleases] the people, after pleasing the gods and the Asuras, this performance will be called Nāndī (Benediction).

23. When auspicious words uttered with proper intonation in accompaniment of songs and playing of instruments resound a region, all evils will disappear, and prosperity will ensue there.

24. In so much space as is filled with sound of musical instruments there will be there no Rākṣasas or leaders of Vighnas (vighna-vināyaka).

25-26. On hearing the sound of Nāndī, and recitatives, songs and playing of instruments during marriages of all kinds,[5] and sacrifices performed for the prosperity of kings, ferocious spirits will make themselves scarce. And this (i.e. the sound of the Nāndī) will be equal to the exposition Vedic Mantras.

27. I have heard from the god of gods (Indra) and afterwards from Śaṃkara (Śiva) that music vocal as well as instrumental, is in fact a thousand times superior to bath [in holy waters] and to Japa.

28. In places in which there occur instrumental music and dramatic performance, or song and instrumental music, there will surely be there never any kind of inauspicious happening.

29. Thus I have devised the Preliminaries as a ceremony of adoration for worshipping deities, with laudatory verses and Mantras.

Ablution of the Director on the Stage

30. As the head becomes fatigued by bowing on the stage, the rule permits the Director to bathe it with water.[6]

31. After the ablution the Director should worship the Jarjara with Mantras. All this has been said in connection of the Preliminaries.[7] This is the reason for the ablution.

32. I shall now tell you in detail how drama came (lit. dropped down) to the earth from Heaven, for I am unable to withhold anything from you.

33-34. All these sons of mine being intoxicated with [the knowledge of] the Nāṭyaveda, practised in course of time an art tiring the entire people with Prahasanas connected with laughter.

34-35. And they on purpose, produced in an assembly [of spectators] a play which caricatured the sages and which was unacceptable and full of wicked acts, and which encouraged rural manners and was cruel and inauspicious.

The Sages curse Bharata’s Sons.

36-37. On hearing this, the sages were extremely angry and excited, and spoke to them (i.e. sons of Bharata) burning them, as it were, with their words, ‘O Brahmins, it is not proper that we should be thus caricatured. What is this insult [for], and what is your intention?

38. As due to pride in your knowledge [of drama] you have taken to arrogance (avinaya), your evil knowledge will get destroyed.

39. In the community of sages and Brahmins or in meeting them, you will appear as being no followers of the Vedas and will attain the character of Sūdras.

40. You will become mere Śūdras and attain their functions, and those to be born in your line, will be impure.

41. And your posterity will be dancers who will worship others along with their wives and children (i.e. they will all be Sūdras).[8]

42. Gods on hearing of the origin of curse on my sons became anxious and approached the sages.

Gods intercede in favour of Bharata’s Sons

43. Then the gods with Śakra (Indra) as their leader said, ‘Afflicted [thus] with misery the drama will perish.’

44. The sages said in reply that drama would not perish, but the remaining portion of their curse would take effect in its entirety.

Bharata’s Sons approach their Father.

45-46. On hearing the words of the sages of terrible spirit, my sons became sad, and with a desire to kill themselves they approached me and said, ‘We have been totally ruined by you, and for the fault of drama we have been made to take to Śūdra’s conduct.’

Bharata pacifies them.

47-48. For their consolation I said, ‘Do not be sorry for it; the rule that words of sages will never prove untrue has indeed been made by fate (kṛtānta); so you should not turn to the destruction [of your own selves], after being thus consoled.

49. Remember (lit. know) that this dramatic art has been described by Brahman [himself]. So teach it to your disciples and others through its practice.

50. Do not destroy this drama which has been devised with great difficulty, and which depends on great things, brings merit and has its origin in the Vedas, their Aṅgas and Upāṅgas.[9]

51. After holding the performance of a drama according to [rules] which I have heard from Apsarasas, you are to undergo a purificatory ceremony (prāyaścitta).

Nahuṣa invites divine Artistes to the Earth.

52. In course of time, a king named Nahuṣa attained the kingdom of heaven through his polity, intelligence and prowess. He then governed the kingdom and obtained a divine prosperity (vyuṣṭi).

53. And on seeing the musical performance (gāndharva) and drama [of the gods], he became anxious [for these].

54. And he thought within himself as to how the dramatic performance of gods might be held in his own house [on the earth] and to the gods he spoke for [causing such] a performance, with joined palms. ‘Let the drama [produced] by the Apsarasas be performed in our house [on the earth].’

Gods reject the request.

56. But in reply to this, the gods with Bṛhaspati as their leader said to him ‘The meeting of divine damsels and human beings has not been prescribed [anywhere].

57. [But] as you are the lord of heaven, you should be given an advice which is friendly as well as suitable. Let the master [of the dramatic art] go there [at your place] and please you.’

Nahuṣa approaches Bharata.

58. Then the king with joined palms said to me, ‘Revered sir, I should like to see this dramatic performance established on the earth.

59. I have been promised earlier [by gods] your service as a trainer. O best of Brahmins, I have now got it directly [by approaching you].

Urvaśī and the earthly drama

60. In the house of my grand father (Pururavas), this drama together with his work has been described by Urvaśī to the members of the harem.

61. But when the members of the harem were distressed on the death of the king who became insane[10] due to her disappearance, this [dramatic art] was lost.

62. I wish this again to be openly produced on the earth during sacrifices to be done on different days of the moon, so that a happy and auspicious situation may arise.

63. Hence, plays (lit. composition) relating to many characters produced in my house through graceful movement of women, will add to your fame.’

Bharata grants this request and sends his sons to the earth.

64-67. ‘Let this be so’ said, I in reply to the king Nahuṣa, and called my sons, and spoke to them as well as to gods the conciliatory words [as follows:] ‘This king Nahuṣa begs us with joined palms that you may go down for your own good to the earth to produce drama there. Drama being produced there, I shall make an end of your curse and you will no longer be despised by Brahmins and kings. So go down to the earth to produce drama there, [for] I shall not be able to disregard the words of this earthly king.’[11]

Kohala is the Successor of Bharata.

68-69. For us all and for the magnanimous Nahuṣa, the Self-born One (Brahman) has said that success in drama would depend on his authoritative instruction (āptopadeśa). The rest will be related by Kohala in his supplementary treatise (uttara-tantra)[12] which also will treat [of more rules on] the application [of dramatic art], the Memorial verses (kārikā) and the etymologies (nirukta).

70. For the purpose of diversion, this Śāstra has been established by me in heaven with the help of Apsarasas and the sage Svāti and Nārada.”

Bharata’s sons come down to the earth.

71. Then, O Brahmins, they went down to the earth in the house of Nahuṣa, and devised in due order the production of various plays with the help of women.

72. Afterwards they my sons, begot progeny in women of the earth and devised for them more dramas (lit. creation) on various themes.

73. On begetting sons and devising plays in due order they were permitted to return again to heaven.

74. Thus through a curse the dramatic performance has been brought down to the earth, and the successive generations of dramatic artistes (bharata) have come into being.

Kohala and his associates

75-76. Kohala[13] and others together with Vātsya[14], Śāṇḍilya,[15] and Dhūrtila[16] (Dattila) stayed in this earth for some time as mortals, and put into practice this Śāstra which augments the intellect of men, deals with the deeds of the three worlds and is a specimen of all other Śāstras.

Value of the Nāṭyaśāstra

77-79. He who always hears the reading of that [Śāstra] which is auspicious, sportful, originating from Brahman’s mouth, very holy, pure, good, destructive of sins, and who puts into practice and witnesses carefully the performance [of a drama], will attain the same blessed goal which masters of Vedic knowledge[17] and performers of sacrifices or givers of gifts will attain [in the end].

Value of the Dramatic Show

80. Of all duties of the king, this has been proclaimed as possessing the best result (mahāphala).[18] Of all kinds of charities, allowing people to enjoy a dramatic show without payment, has been praised most.

81. Gods are never so pleased on being worshipped with scents and garlands as they are delighted with the performance of dramas.

82. The man who properly attends the performance of music (gāndharva) and dramas will [after his death] attain the happy and meritorious path in the company of Brahminic sages.

The popular practice supplements dramatic rules.

83. Thus many practices sanctioned by Śāstras have been described in connection with the performance of dramas. Whatever remains unmentioned should be included into practice by experts from an observation (lit. imitative) of people (i.e. their usage).[19]

The Final Benediction

What more should I say? Let the earth be full of grains, and be free from diseases for all time. Let there be peace for cows and Brahmins, and let the king protect thus the entire earth.[20]

Here ends the Chapter XXXVI of the Nāṭyaśāstra, which treats of the Descent of Drama on the Earth

Footnotes and references:


The shorter recension of the NŚ. omits these names. See I.2


See I. 111-112.


See V. 80-83. (17)


See V. 70ff.


Āvāhe ca vivāhe ca. Āvāha is the marriage which takes place in bridegroom’s place and vivāha takes place in the bride’s place.


See the note on 12-14.


See V. 118-119.


In modern states, Directors of theatres would be dragged to law-courts for a similar offence.


In spite of this passage, it is difficult to believe that drama of India was of Vedic origin. On this see the translator’s Contributions to the History of Hindu Drama, Calcutta, 1957, pp. 3-4.


The fourth act of Kālidāsa’s Vikram. deals with this theme in a masterly fashion.


The implication of this mythical account is beautiful. It seeks to impress on us the idea that dramatic performance flourished in heaven, and it is a gift of gods.


In ancient Indian medical works we meet with uttara-sthānas which are evidently later additions. See Saṃhitās ascribed to Kaśyapa and Suśruta. Kohala’s work has reached us in a very damaged ms. not yet published.


See the introduction.








This passage probably shows that the theatrical art was originally connected with the pre-Vedic religion. The author of the NŚ. tried here to give it a status similar to that of the Vedic practices.


Some modern states also find it profitable to spend money on dramatic arts.


This shows that the author of the Śāstra did not like to see drama eternally tied to his prescriptions.


This is the typical pattern of Bharata-vākyas met with in available plays. The term ‘Bharata-vākya’ however does not occur in the Nāṭyaśāstra.

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